Russia, Georgia Helpfully Provide National-Security Test for Candidates

obama and mccain

Photo: Getty Images

obama and mccain

Photo: Getty Images

As the Olympics kicked off in all its trippy, sideways-jogging wonder, Georgia and Russia eschewed the spirit of international brotherhood as they waged war over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. This was all going down right around the moment Vladimir Putin and George Bush were greeting one another in Beijing. For Barack Obama and John McCain, however, the war was a chance to demonstrate how they would respond to an unexpected international crisis as president. Obama initially called for both nations “to show restraint” and “avoid an escalation to full-scale war,” before later blaming Russia for escalating the crisis and violating “Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” McCain, who has repeatedly expressed his disdain for Putin (“I looked into Mr. Putin’s eyes and I saw three things — a K and a G and a B”), was taking a hard line against Russia from the start, calling for them to “unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces.” Earlier this morning, he said that Russia’s actions are “unacceptable” and that the world should come “together in universal condemnation of Russian aggression.” There may be no winners in war, but who’s coming out on top in this political test?

• Chuck Todd and friends say McCain “is going to have a hard time making the case that Obama has a deer-in-the-headlights look when the Bush Administration appears to be acting more paralyzed than either candidate.” Is it worth it for McCain to be more hawkish than Bush, and push Obama and Bush closer together on the issue? [First Read/MSNBC]

• Jennifer Rubin writes that if the conflict becomes a “major foreign policy issue,” then it’s a “reminder that we live in unstable and dangerous times,” which is “a reminder the Obama camp would rather voters not have.” Obama’s “bizarre initial reaction” and “even stranger decision to attack a McCain advisor using Russian talking points” shows a misread that could be “crucial” for a president. [Contentions/Commentary]

• Ben Smith thinks McCain’s instinctual immediate response of “moral clarity … seems to have been borne out by Russia’s widening campaign.” The Democrats will have a hard time convincing people that “McCain was impetuous and happened to be right.” [Politico]

• Jonathan Martin agrees with his colleague that McCain “appears to have been ahead of the curve in his assessment that Moscow was the bad actor here.” McCain’s campaign is now pushing YouTube clips of McCain’s “tough talk” on Russia from years ago to demonstrate his prescience. [Politico]

• Josh Patashnik believes “the Obama campaign swung and missed when it tried to highlight McCain adviser Randy Scheunemann’s lobbying for Georgia.” Obama corrected himself by “placing the blame more firmly on Russia’s shoulders while McCain is veering ever further in the direction of calling for a new cold war.” [Plank/New Republic]

• Jim Geraghty claims Obama’s first statement amounted to “War is bad,” while his second statement was, essentially, “Russian invasions are bad.” McCain, meanwhile, was basically saying “Put those tanks in reverse, Putin.” [Campaign Spot/New Republic]

• Matthew Yglesias is surprised that McCain has “decided to make this a campaign issue, with national security adviser and former registered lobbyist for Georgia Randy Scheunemann condemning Barack Obama for moral equivalence.” McCain’s reaction to the conflict was just another example of “a foreign policy philosophy that seems actively hostile to the idea of prudence.” [Think Progress]

• Laura Meckler writes that “the conflict gave Sen. Obama the opportunity to show that he is indeed prepared,” but the focus on foreign policy will likely give McCain an advantage, if it becomes an issue with voters at all. [WSJ]

• Steve Benen contends that if McCain’s response is what we can expect from him as president, then he’d “apparently be anxious to exacerbate the burgeoning war, and antagonize Russia.” [Carpetbagger Report]

• Greg Sargent thinks that McCain “clearly hopes to use the combo of the violence and Obama’s vacation to associate himself more directly with an international crisis and to try to remind people that the world remains a dangerous place.” [TPM Election Central]
Dan Amira

For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.